“No one heals himself by wounding another.” – St. Ambrose
If you’re looking for scandal or controversy on the IHOPKC debates, you’re reading the wrong blog. If you’re looking for me to call out people by name in a negative way, you’re reading the wrong blog. But if you want to hear a balanced account of one person at IHOPKC who worked with some senior leaders, with some departments, and knows people from the household names to the people no one would know, you are reading the right blog. And my hope is that everyone reading about this controversy is interested in hearing all sides, not just the one that has the loudest bandwagon.
I’ve been composing this blog in my head since I ran 8 miles in my last training run for my marathon last June. Of course since then I have many more thoughts and much more information, but it all started coming together for me then. Since leaving IHOPKC, I’d wrestled a lot with how I felt; the day of that training run I got answers. It was like a 1.5 hour prayer meeting where I just processed and listened. That day things became clear to me.
I’d left Kansas City the year before, not the best way, but not because of anything IHOPKC did to me. Since it happened in the context of my decade-long love of the ministry, I had shut everything, and mostly everyone, out. It was easier than realizing I’d probably never stand in the prayer room again because of all the pain and disillusionment I had experienced personally. Between that run last June and recent days, I’ve really given thought to the entire situation and all its tentacles.
When I wrote my doctoral dissertation, the research method I used was a qualitative case study. Case studies tell stories, but cannot be generalized. To take a case study and offer it as a generalization is not acceptable in academic research and would be thrown out of any journal. Personal experience is personal. I did five case studies for my research and found the same thing in all five, but I still had to have a section in which I discussed the way qualitative case-study research is used and how it’s inappropriate to generalize results to other people. Therefore, I would be a poor thinker if I tried to generalize everything—and I caution you to take anyone’s account as a generalization—but I can tell you what I know, what I think, and my own experience. I tell you this from the view of a person who has wrestled through answers and tried to see the negative side of it all so I wouldn’t be blindly accepting. I also tell you this from the view of a person who has been in varied aspects of the ministry at IHOPKC, from a spectator, to a staffer, to a person acquainted with many leaders and even personal friends with some. I have had a unique view into IHOPKC because I wasn’t in one stream, one section, or one group.
This is one of the most difficult writing tasks I have charged myself with completing, partly because it’s not about one thing. What was initially a story of a cult trying to rise in the ranks at IHOPKC and eventually outing itself with a possible murder, maybe suicide, of one of its members, then became a public forum for anyone who left IHOPKC unhappy to relay stories. I dare say Bethany’s tragedy, as well as the tragic experience of the real cult members, has been hijacked by opportune timing by many. Hear me out here. I can’t make this short and make it cover what it should, but I will try to break it up with headers and themes.
My threefold purpose in this writing
First, I have received many emails and messages and questions since I left IHOPKC, and people want to know why. No one has pushed or pressed me, but I think answering questions is helpful.
Second, there is little of a balanced opinion coming out of this yet. Apart from the few former IHOPers who have made general supportive statements of the ministry, but not specifically commenting on the issues, most of what is coming out is accusatory, pained, or even slanderous. I feel like I have something to offer to assuage those who are confused, without sugar-coating anything. Also, I have no ties or commitments to anyone where I feel I should or should not say something. I have friends who have left upset, and I have friends who remain on full-time staff. No one has suggested I do anything as response. If someone tried to coerce me, I would probably rebel anyway! While I am a professional writer, and this story is fresh enough to gain headlines, I have made no attempts to shop it to a magazine or newspaper and add flair to get me a byline. This is all personal. I made this decision to write and did not consult anyone about whether they thought I should. I told some later, but I asked no one’s input. The only people who read this in advance were two people who edited it for typos and copy-editing errors. Neither has ever been to IHOPKC, and neither commented on my take on the content.
Third, there is some misinformation being reported, no doubt from anger and pain. I get it. But some things that are being said about which I have firsthand knowledge, and I want to address those.
My ethos (credibility) to speak on this
On the murder (or suicide): I was at IHOPKC when Bethany Deaton was murdered/ committed suicide. I found out about it before it was common knowledge because I was good friends with a leader who told me what the leadership knew at that point. Because I knew several in leadership there and was part of a team made up of some in leadership on the base, I know, factually and firsthand, what many of the leaders were saying and sharing when it happened, and I know what came next. I was in the meeting that is now the subject of debate where Mike Bickle said “Shelley really went after [the confession].” I was in the prayer room the week after, sitting, praying on the mic, talking to IHOPU students who were my friends. I was a basket case, on edge. The tension was thick; it was the great un-talked about thing. I admit I struggled with that. It was difficult for me to go on with the day-to-day operations of the prayer room like this wasn’t happening. But that’s me. That’s the me who feels everything deep and thinks life has to stop until things are addressed. It’s why I am not leading a ministry–because my personal feelings would get in the way. I don’t dispute the damaging cultish activities I have read about and talked to people about in the Deaton and group homes. But I wasn’t in those homes. I can’t comment on that, but I can comment on the responses at IHOPKC to some degree. I presume to know nothing about the inner workings of the Deaton group. I profess to know something about the inner workings of the base at the time. How much I know, I cannot say, but I sure knew a lot from a lot of different places. I believe I had a unique view few could have had. So please read on.
My IHOPKC background
In some way, I have been connected to IHOPKC since 2002. From 2002-2008, I was on the outskirts as a visitor. From 2008-2013, I had a close connection, and from 2011-2013, for times, I actually worked there in some capacity. These jobs included working one summer as a writing assistant for one of the senior leaders, being on the Justice Leadership Team 2012-2013, which I will detail more, as that position is what put me in a place to know much of what I do, and teaching a children’s dance class at Forerunner Arts the summer of 2012, as well as a writing class at Forerunner Arts the fall of 2012. I also spoke and/or prayed onstage at large events run by leaders at IHOPKC, and I was even the face of the Simeon Company, an internship I am still not old enough to join, in the brochure for several years.
Here’s my background with the ministry, from fringe connection to backstage involvement.
My first visit to IHOPKC was in 2002 when the ministry was small and sat in a trailer on Grandview Road. I went because my friends knew my life had been radically changed by prayer and worship and that is all I ever wanted to do (I was the life of the party, I tell you!). They told me about this IHOP place and always said “we should go.” Of course I asked when we could. But no one got around to it. So during the summer of 2002, I used part of summer vacation (I was a middle school teacher then) to drive up there. I went partly because I was frustrated with the talk about going someday. I had to go to the place that understood my passion for prayer and worship. And I loved it. I was totally on the outside. I knew no one. I did a weekend seminar, and it was small enough then that we got to practice antiphonal singing in the prayer room. I sang as third singer on the mic for a short burst of a Saturday worship session. I loved singing spontaneously. I loved how everyone cared about prayer and worship and didn’t think I was a freak who was “too heavenly minded.” I also realized this place was far beyond what I was ready for. I couldn’t do this all day. I didn’t get it yet. But I respected it. I heard Mike Bickle preach. I had no clue who he was. I thought his name was funny. Poor guy, I thought, his name sounds like pickle. This was my entire introduction to IHOPKC.
And I kept going back. Sometimes I drove the 8-9 hours impulsively when I needed to detox. I could always slip into a room of strangers worshiping Jesus and somehow find myself again.
I went back and forth to IHOPKC for years as an anonymous visitor. I never introduced myself to anyone. And perhaps if there is anything that has come out of this controversy it is how easy it is to be lost in a major organization, not simply as a visitor, but even as a member.
Closer connections: Christmas break of 2008 my connection to IHOPKC changed. I was having a rough time in my home city and ran off to KC. That August I had been dramatically, profoundly, and irrevocably called (I mean that word; no slang here) into the pro-life cause. This changed my life, and while I will admit to being caught up in emotion, names, and dramatic prayer meetings, I will also say now, 6 years later, my passion for this has not been altered, even when everything else has. It was a real call, and I didn’t know what to do with it. No one in my world really talked much about abortion. I felt strangely alone and strangely empowered. I had no grid to deal, so I ran off to the place that did. That trip gave me powerful insights, a prophetic word that is one of the ones I still see as really real, a meeting with the man whose message stirred my heart to fighting for life, and even a very long and obviously God-appointed prayer from Mike Bickle, the leader of IHOPKC. I left my city feeling so alone, like people didn’t understand what had happened in my heart, but when I came back, I felt like God had heard my heart cry and taken me to the very people who had inspired me. I felt as if God Himself was encouraging me to keep going—even though none of them had a clue. That year I met one of my friends who was (and still is) in senior leadership at IHOPKC. That year, through a wild series of events that no one but God could orchestrate, I became connected to IHOPKC and many people there in ways that lasted (and some which are still in existence). After that trip, I was always connected, and visited often; it would then lead to my spending the better part of two summers there, and then a year working there.
This isn’t really supposed to be a document of my IHOPKC background so I won’t belabor the many details of my contact between 2008-2014. I had to work a full-time job and because of student loan debt, which was massive after a personal crisis, and I was on my own; there was no chance I was going to do ministry full-time with support raising, though in my heart I was sure nothing would be more wonderful. But I spent breaks there. Two years in a row I did in-house programs IHOPKC conducted for short-termers. The first was a month-long sort of “mini-internship” and in it, often the internship teachers would teach Intro (the main internship gateway for staff) in the morning and the same session that afternoon; in fact, that program began my relationship with some of those leaders). I listened to almost every teaching IHOPKC had. I actually had an iPod for that purpose. I hesitate to say I called it a “BicklePod” (but I did and it was funny back then, but now comments like that make people think you are a cult follower). Hang with me here. My point in telling you of the teaching and involvement I had on the base is to show that I have also been taught the “DNA” as they say, of IHOP. The prophetic history wasn’t really my “thing,” and yet I know it and understand why it matters to them. I don’t respect all the people who were a part of that back through the years, but I also think some of it was vitally important and relevant.
I will never know if I missed God or not because it didn’t turn out well for me, but in 2012 I packed up and moved to Kansas City, without a job (but with a back up plan) because it seemed I was “supposed to go.” I’m not defending that statement here. I regret it, not because of IHOPKC, but because of my heart. When I arrived in KC things happened fast. I arrived the day after meetings between George Otis, Jr. (Transformations prayer videos and researcher of true revival) and Bickle had led IHOPKC, coinciding with its anniversary, to announce new justice-focused initiatives that would lead out daily prayer meetings. Each day was designated for one focus. Friday was LIFE. I was, at that time, a staff member of a pro-life ministry, and editor of its blog. Through a series of events, I joined prayer room staff and then became a part of the LIFE team, and eventually became one of the few members of the new Justice Leadership Team. At first I was working with the pro-life stuff, but soon I was asked to help lead the communications within that group and to the base from our group. Working with a good friend of mine who had been on staff for years, we were a dream team. Part of the reason the leader asked me was my PhD and writing skills; my education was valued. We produced newsletters, team emails, communicated with prayer leaders and worship leaders, and worked directly with Marketing to get prayer focus handouts into the GPR to help people pray. My friend would field the info and then I would take care of making it ready for print or communication. I had lots of dialogue with the leaders and was the primary contact dealing with Marketing. This was a small group of only seven main leaders, the editorial team, and a couple of others who joined us from the leaders’ core teams. We often met in the back conference room where the senior leaders have offices. I say all this to tell you I know a bit about the back rooms, not just the visitor side. Some days I spent more time backstage and in meeting rooms than in the front of the prayer room.
The summer before I had worked with a senior leader who has a “big name” and worked in his office. Where his office was meant I sometimes heard senior leaders’ meetings (Sorry, leaders, but you left the door open!) One day I overheard a senior leadership meeting where they were dealing with some bad press over a national prayer meeting, The Response (which I was also a part of and participated on stage, as well as behind the scenes). I have never heard more humble hearts in my life. They didn’t know I could hear them, but I heard it all. And I sat in the office next door with tears in my eyes, amazed that in the face of accusations they could—when no one else could hear—resolve to love and walk in humility. I will never forget overhearing Bickle saying how many years in the future, they would see this as a gift that would cause them to thank and love God more. This is the stuff they said in the back. It wasn’t for the press or a big group. This was their heart. It was the same offstage as it was onstage. And that’s why the next year when I had a chance to work with them, I was as excited as a child.
When I tell you that I know IHOPKC, I am speaking from a point of being behind the scenes. It would be impossible to make any lasting generalizations about every stream of a ministry of thousands, but I can make some comments about some of the senior leaders and organizational operations because I was part of them. I can comment about the culture because I was part of it. On occasion I was even privy to private emails because part of my job was to help answer some questions that needed a response; one year, I even composed some of them. I ultimately produced a sort of quarterly report on the justice initiatives that went to some major donors and senior leaders, including Bickle. We also worked closely with George Otis, Jr. (AKA “Uncle George,” a man I love and admire to this day) and the leaders of the Global Day of Prayer. These meetings were part of IHOPKC’s new focus and the partnerships IHOPKC wanted to have with global prayer leaders. (I’m going to state the obvious here and say that cults don’t reach out to mainstream leaders, and IHOPKC did, but I will come back to that later).
In summary, while I was not on FT staff for years, I did two in-house teaching programs (2009, 2010), worked for a summer (2011) in the offices as a writing assistant for a name you would recognize in a minute if I said it (and this often included being privy to private conversations, reading and sending emails, and other things that the average student or staffer would never see), and then came the next summer and worked part-time, but served more hours than many full-time staff for the next almost-year (2012-2013), while working three part-time jobs. I have prayed on the mic, briefed many worship teams and prayer leaders on certain justice issues, and spent some days at IHOPKC in the back meeting rooms more than the front prayer room. I’ve been part of two small groups. I know (or knew then as some have changed) a majority of the senior leaders in some capacity, as well as various worship leaders. I have had personal conversations with many. I have been to some of their homes and heard their hearts and watched their lives in ordinary times. I am not a stranger or just a random observer. You need to know that to know where my writing is coming from. I would venture to say that I have seen more of the inside of operations and people than most who are writing about it currently.
I’m not here to drop names, but to offer credibility to what I am saying. My friends at IHOPKC range from people who were with Metro, the church Bickle pastored in pre-IHOPKC days, to leaders who were some of the first group that started IHOPKC, who are on staff because they were just there, before an internship existed, to regular old students and staff, to people who just love it and moved there to “do IHOP” as part of their life, to senior leaders whose names you would know if I were dropping them. Some of those leaders are names I have seen maligned in blogs.
Additionally, I think I have read almost every public document written about the IHOPKC controversies in this season. I’m sure I missed a few, but for the most part I have kept up. Of course, most of it has been negative because IHOPKC has not yet made many public comments, nor have most of its leaders. A few of my friends I knew from there have made comments in general of their love for the ministry, indicating their support without going into details. More of what I have seen is signatures on petitions and blog posts by people who were some I loved and admired as members of IHOP–worshipers, pray-ers, even friends. Their names have been signed to heartbreaking stories, and maligning criticisms that sometimes have shocked me.
Now I want to address some of the most common accusations I am hearing that I actually know something about and feel like needs discussing:
There is so much cult debate here, and it’s utterly maddening to me. Part of my graduate research was on cults. As Tyler Deaton portrayed a cocky attitude on 48 Hours and said that he didn’t think anyone who was qualified to call his group a cult had said that it was, I was remarking to the screen that I was qualified and saying it! Part of my master’s thesis was on cults and groupthink. That thesis is available online and happens to have been adopted by the library at the US Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, where it is still in the stacks, (which I am throwing in there to argue that it’s taken seriously as an adequate work of academic research, peer-reviewed and cited). I analyzed literature but in order to do so, had to research cults, the Holocaust, groupthink and group dynamics. Also, I hold an earned PhD from a major flagship state university (to be distinguished from some online diploma mill or unaccredited school) in educational psychology, which is a field which studies thinking and cognition. Therefore, when I say that my opinion is qualified to some degree, I think I have some ethos on which to say that. No, I do not work with cult deprogramming on a regular basis or anything to that level, but I have more background and experience in studying cults and thinking than, arguably, most of the voices weighing in on this issue right now. Here are my two thoughts, the second of which I will qualify.
Tyler Deaton appears to be a cult leader.
IHOPKC is not a cult, even remotely.
This is probably my most important point and reason for writing this long piece. If IHOPKC is anything, it’s too un-controlling. Part of why people flail there sometimes is ether the lack of real connection it is possible to have, or sometimes the feeling we put on ourselves that that it wasn’t okay to talk about some things. Sometimes it’s like those old church jokes about how people ask for prayer requests and everyone says “Please pray for me to have motivation to read my Bible and pray more.” And secretly people are thinking “Please pray I won’t hit that person I hate.” Or “I can’t stop looking at that porn, but I’m in ministry so I can’t tell you that.” You get the idea.
The qualities that make a cult a cult are not present in the organization of IHOPKC. They simply are not. No feelings or opinions can change that. I read blog after blog that say someone felt intimidated. But feeling intimidated because a leader you know says something isn’t cultish. My boss intimidates me—not in a bad way, but he’s my boss. If he comes to watch me work or I have to meet with him, I absolutely feel I have to be honest with him, answer his questions, and meet with him when he asks. I second-guess myself a bit, and I get nervous. My boss is a nice man, a leader we all like, and an overall good guy. But he’s the boss. I’d be a disrespectful twerp if I didn’t have some level of healthy fear. Being intimidated is not a qualification for labeling a group as a cult. That’s only one of many accusations lodged on that front, but I simply am taking too long writing this as it is. If you want to do more researching on cults, I can refer you to my own research and works cited so you can read academic research on it.
The primary reasons I see people label it a cult are the eschatological emphasis and the “groupspeak.” Every organization has jargon. I work in a field where we might possibly have more acronyms than IHOPKC! Ever heard two people in the medical profession talk? Groupspeak. Yes, there are many common phrases. I used to joke like crazy about how nothing ever ends at IHOPKC. We always “press the pause button” or “transition.” But so what? As a word person, sometimes I would get annoyed, but it’s harmless. I am also a person who thinks the phrase “passed away” is weird. When a family member died, I said, “she died.” I’m just literal. However, it is not cultish to use the same jargon in a common culture. It’s the intent of that jargon that can be cultish.
Now for the end times stuff. Oh, please, please hear me here! I was not trained to be a violent, end-time militant ready to help Jesus kill people. I can barely type that because it is so absurd. Bickle’s calling is to both prayer and intimacy with Jesus as we prepare for the end times. What will those look like? We only have a picture we imagine. But every time he speaks on something that is opinion, such as saying Jesus may come back in his lifetime—he always said “that’s my opinion, but I don’t know,” or something similar. What he offered as his teaching was substantiated with the Bible. Is it 100% correct? Is your pastor’s interpretation of the Bible always 100% correct? We are men and women praying and seeking God. Maybe Jesus will return in 200 years, maybe 20. But it’s not going to be pretty for those who don’t know him (and regardless of your view on the timing of the tribulation, the Bible is unequivocally clear there will be trouble for believers at some stage toward the end). Read Revelation and tell me that Jesus does everything gently. Jesus is absolutely love. Pure and holy love. And He is justice; as a righteous King, he gets to execute justice. Does anyone believe that the antichrist structure discussed in the Bible would really just let Jesus take over? Regardless of your views on when and where that will happen, the text of the Bible is clear it won’t be pretty. Justice meets love when the God of love is rescuing us from the enemy of our souls and those who fight for him. Love rescues us. That is not always quiet, peaceful at the time, or pretty.
The preparation for this at IHOPKC has always been in context of the church as the bride of Christ being made ready with oil in her lamps, as the parable of the ten virgins states. And those lamps are always emphasized to be intimacy with Jesus, when we have this oil, we can withstand trials. That is a key teaching at IHOPKC and one I have rarely read about in the accusations. A phrase they say often there is that “lovers will become workers.” The idea is that first we fall in love with Jesus and who He is, and then we want to work with Him. I am not focused on the end times, and I don’t know how much I would ascribe to, but I can see a biblical case for the IHOPKC teaching. It is incorrect to say the purpose of IHOPKC is to raise up people who are violent fighters with Jesus; the “warring bride” terminology refers to warring against the enemy, out of love for Jesus. Ephesians 6 makes it clear that we are warring against spiritual forces, and Revelation makes it clear that this war will be on earth one day in a visible reality. But there is no truth to the idea that IHOPKC is training people to be violent end time soldiers or something. That is not true. It’s even slightly slanderous/libelous.
And a few other comments people throw in the cult-o-meter and my responses:
“I was forced to listen to the prophetic history.”
“I had to spend 24 hours a week in the prayer room, not doing anything else.”
No. You. Weren’t. You signed up for an internship with a ministry. You want to be a leader in an industry, you had better know their vision, mission, and DNA. I can’t even fathom being told to read the organizational mission statement and supporting documents in my job and saying I was forced to conform. No, I choose to work there, and that’s what I do. This is how the world works. In my job recently, I had to have hours of useless training in how to deal with chemical spills. I teach a humanities subject in a college. I never, in any circumstances, have to deal with chemicals, not even toner for copiers, but I had a deadline and had to complete a ridiculously long training and take an OSHA regulations test or jeopardize my job. I hated it; it was irrelevant. I did it because that was a requirement of my job. That’s how the world works, but only in ministry do we label it as a cult.
In a major ministry that was founded after many confirming prophetic words, of course you might listen to hours of stories about that so you understand that vision. In a high-tech start-up, you may watch videos of the founders’ vision, attend trainings, or read manuals. But it’s all part of how things work in any full-time vocation. I wouldn’t want anyone in leadership in an organization of any sort who doesn’t ascribe to the mission and vision of the organization. That doesn’t mean you have to ascribe to IHOPKC to be an effective leader or minister. Not one bit. But if you want to be in leadership there, why would anyone expect anything different? I keep paralleling this to my job and thinking that these accusations would never fly in the workforce, but somehow they have become fodder for the naysayers in the ministry world.
IHOPKC is an open base. Anyone from anywhere can walk in and pray as much or as little as he or she wants. In fact, one can join prayer room staff and have a badge and sign up for prayer room hours and never attend a single session requiring anything. And it’s never even checked. On our team, we were all asked, along with the worship teams, to attend the Friday and Saturday services. Guess what? No one followed up on our team to see if we did. It’s an honor system in that sense, which is hardly cultish either. Yes, students and staff have to sign in and fulfill requirements. I have friends who went to Christian colleges and their grades include a chapel grade, and they have to sign in and attend a minimum number of chapels. Oh, by the way, I have to sign in now when I go to faculty meetings and all our names are recorded. And if I miss a mandatory event, my boss hears about it from his boss. My job is wonderful, flexible, and not controlling—but there are just rules and regulations everywhere.
This is not a micromanaging cult. This is an organization teaching its mission to other leaders (the path of internships is primarily to join staff or to go start a house of prayer).
And on that topic, IHOPKC doesn’t “affiliate.” Some have written “[—] House of Prayer, which isn’t even connected to IHOPKC…” as if they have pulled away from IHOPKC. It’s a sign of its lack of control that this even happens. IHOPKC doesn’t care if you use “[City Name] International House of Prayer.” In fact, and here’s another reason I can’t take the cult label seriously, you have listen to Bickle speak for two seconds, you know that “our copyright is the right to copy.” He has said over and over through the years that you can take his notes, manuals, whatever, and “change them, put your name on them, put your mother’s name on them, and you don’t have to give me credit.”
That’s not a cult, people; that’s a ministry that believes in its calling.
On Spiritual Abuse
This one is touchy. And while we can’t generalize, we also can’t discount if someone has had a bad experience. But I can say that as a culture and organization, IHOPKC is not spiritually abusive. Does that mean some people didn’t encounter that in their work because some leader did something wrong or abused power—or was just an emotional wimp and was manipulative to a fault? Of course not. I can’t speak for everyone; neither can the accusers who try to.
What I do want to say is that spiritual abuse is a real and devastating thing (I have been a victim, but not at IHOPKC), and to throw that label around because of bad ministry experiences cheapens the reality of those who have suffered and had their faith wounded because of actual abuse. That’s what’s happening a lot in these controversies. One minute a real cult group which lived on spiritual (and emotional and sexual) abuse was the problem, and then many jumped on the bandwagon using the springboard of opportunity to propel their own stories that were more about human conflict. Insisting that someone “made me feel like” is not evidence of abuse. Our feelings do not determine truth. If someone makes you feel a certain way and you can’t leave without that person doing something to you, then you may be dealing with abuse. Our brokenness as people, and our inability to be assertive, stand up to people, or deal with conflict well is not a crime, but putting the responsibility on another person and labeling it abuse should be.
I have a friend who was a victim of horrific spiritual abuse. She was a part of IHOPKC for years, but her abuse happened in a different context, after she left. As she sees and reads these accounts, it’s actually not doing her any justice as she copes. But she’d probably like to make a speech on the line between abuse and plain old relational weakness. The accusations in the Deaton group sound like abuse; the accusations within IHOPKC sound like unprocessed relational issues or deep human brokenness and pain, more like what I experienced with some people who hurt me, but did not abuse me. I do not discount anyone’s pain, and I do not in any respect say no abuse has happened to anyone; I do discount that it’s a general trait of IHOPKC.
And one more aspect is one which I apply to myself: If we came in broken, we will be more broken if we don’t deal with it because we will be sitting in a furnace. It’s called a prayer furnace for a reason, and while the primary reason doesn’t have to do with you, it’s naïve to think you can spend 24 hours a week in a prayer room and, if you don’t Facebook the whole time, not think your own issues will rise to the surface. One of the hardest things I ever did was spend 20+ hours a week in the prayer room–because I wasn’t Facebooking; I was praying or reading my Bible, and I was sleepy sometimes, and vulnerable because, what the heck was I doing there? And my heart ached because of all the things that rose to the surface. It was a clash. Deal with it or bury it more.
I have a friend who spent many years in YWAM, as well as friends who majored in either psychology or social work in college, and all of them made a comparison to me of people in their respective environments: Two main types of people entered a Discipleship Training School (DTS) or a psychology/social work major: Those with an intense calling to the field, and those who wanted to be in the environment to learn, grow, and help themselves. There is nothing wrong with wanting to receive more of God, and headed off for a DTS, even without feeling a call to missions. Sometimes people are most spiritually helped and emotionally helped in that environment. My point here is not to criticize those people, but it is to point out that being in a place does not make one a typical representative of the place. My initial visits to IHOPKC were because I needed to receive. I wasn’t there to work or serve. By 2011 when I landed for that summer job, my priority was to work and serve a man who was a leader I admired and who needed my skills to help. I worked hard, and I worked joyfully. By then I was not there for help. Likewise, my work 2012-2013 on the Justice Leadership Team was a joy (well, except sometimes with some editing dilemmas!) and I was there to serve. Both positions, receiving and then giving, were where I was at the time, but if I had been in leadership in any capacity when I was more in a position to receive, then I would have been more broken and hurt when my needs were not being met. Take that for what it’s worth, but remember that every voice does not come from the same place. That doesn’t make it ill-intended, but it makes it an important consideration in how we filter those voices into our views now.
Of everything I have to say, this is going to be the most “negative,” if you will, in some ways, but it’s from personal experience that I speak, and I hope this is the takeaway every reader gets from this long piece. First, what the world refers to as “exorcism” is what Charismatics often call “deliverance.” I will be the first to tell you there are differences between the two, and I am aware of important nuances (such as a person being demon-possessed, versus one who has the influence of demonic oppression; outside the Spirit-filled world, people might simply call it “the enemy attacking a person in that area.”) While we see that a possessed person and an oppressed or spiritually bothered one are different, the wider viewing and reading audience does not get this distinction.
I had an unfortunate experience with deliverance while at IHOPKC, but it was not an IHOPKC-sanctioned experience. It came when I sought help for deep grief and relational issues from my issues I had then with dealing with complications from Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and we ended up doing a “deliverance” program from a manual that had been used in some ministry settings there, but in my situation it was outside those bounds, not IHOPKC-sanctioned, and no one in an official capacity at IHOPKC knew this was going on, and it lacked the processing and community support of the set-up. For me it didn’t work. So why did I do it? Because I had moved to Kansas City, and I thought what if it was God, and what if He wanted to do something like this, and I was being too narrow minded?
I’m not afraid of pointing out the bad things because I am not condemning the ministry for this. So don’t you dare stop here because I need to say some things–especially if you heard my pain over this and think it’s an IHOPKC thing. I also need to point out that I don’t condemn the people who tried to help. I wish it wouldn’t have happened, but they didn’t abuse me or intend to hurt me; no one knew how to deal with RAD in an adult, so it was just an unfortunate situation. It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to “deliver” me, but it was the least awful of them all. I also need to note that at no time in any of the sessions was there yelling, at demons or otherwise, or anything but a calm voice and prayers. This was not like what people have read about. Here are some other things you should know about that ministry:
- There was some success with the blanket repentance and prayers for some, but here’s what I think really happened during the awakening (which began a few years before). People were being woken up to areas of sin and compromise; they were confessing things, finally talking about abuse, self-destruction, all of it. It was an open door. The chains had been broken community-wide to talk about the ugly. This is a good thing. We should always be willing to talk about the ugly. Seeing a mass awakening, and so many people with needs, I don’t think coming up with a foundation for addressing it is bad. It can be overwhelming when hundreds of people are sobbing, repenting, hating themselves, needing healing. I give IHOPKC a lot of credit for addressing these. I believe all the intentions were in the right place. But I don’t believe the success of those people who walked in freedom afterwards were very much about the scripts in that book at all. The successes were because of the unity of commitment to repent, confess, and walk in truth. The requirement for that deliverance time was to then walk it out in community, be honest, and continue in it. And that’s what helps heal people. I’m not at all surprised people found freedom that way. Most of us would find freedom right now if we were allowed to talk about that which haunts us, to repent of sins we committed, or to process those committed against us, and then renew our relationship with Jesus and be in an environment to safely walk that out. That’s healthy and right.
- I have recently learned that particular manual is being redone entirely, and that senior leadership is being tasked with that charge. I won’t go into that more because it’s not my place to talk about that, other than to say, I am thankful the Lord has His hand on it, and that when the deficiencies were discovered they were dealt with.
The flip side of the deliverance ministry and what I know from the inside: To say IHOPKC uses some negative deliverance techniques on everyone is absolutely false. The most profound expressions of deliverance I witnessed, which may seem loud and intense to some were related to the ministry that deals with human trafficking, which has also been accused of much of the controversy making its way around now. That ministry deals with serious demonic oppression. I know a little about some of what they have faced from some I know in there, and I can tell you, it’s bad. Atheists might believe in demonic oppression in those situations. These ministry workers were called upon to help the discharged cult members who wanted it. And I know a bit about this, too.
Because I was there at the time this happened, and also happened to be on a team with one of the main leaders of that ministry, I saw and heard a lot on the inside. Additionally, I also happened to briefly live in a house with one of the former cult members, one who wanted help and had been placed with us. She lived there with a member of that ministry team. A member of that team gave up her own life to stay in a strange house with this traumatized young lady who spent a lot of time crying (reasonably so). I was impressed, frankly, with the care and love given to this torn up young lady who had been a victim apart from anything that happened at the hand of IHOPKC, but to whom IHOPKC offered its hand to help. She was, in all I saw, treated with grace, kindness, and gentleness. I felt for her and prayed for her—even though technically I was not supposed to know why she was there. There was nothing loud, no screaming, nothing scary. She was a sad and traumatized person who’d been a victim of Tyler’s alleged control and now was reeling from shock. Her face looked splotchy from all her crying, but IHOPKC’s ministry was trying to help her. They helped anyone who asked for it. They found them housing—free—and people gave up hours and hours of time to be with these victims.
On the other end are the wild deliverance meetings that the media and former cult members describe as “exorcisms.” When I read those descriptions of loud meetings and praying in the Spirit, I know that had an element of truth. So does some of the detailing of the list of “repentances” that I also had in my “manual.” That’s actually the only place those two meet. I don’t agree with them all, nor think it’s all good for people, but, as I noted, as a result of some of this, leaders are making changes. I don’t know about you, but short of being flawless, I’m not sure what else I can ask of leaders except to learn from mistakes and make changes.
But you know what? As far as the dramatic side, which is not me, and which I would not be involved in, let’s face it, personality type has a lot to do with any ministry delivery. Some of the people in that ministry are just loud and intense people in general. They’d be loud and pray in the Spirit if they were in a church service too. Or Walmart probably! They’re probably loud at home. And they fight in a way spiritually that most of us never see. They deal with people who have spent a lifetime being abused, sold, prostituted, forced into abortion, you name it. They do deal with things we can’t imagine. I’m not sitting here and telling you every encounter or interaction was right; I wasn’t there. What I do know are the leaders behind this. I worked with one of them who was called to this meeting, and I know that leader’s heart. I won’t say there weren’t mistakes, and I don’t know it all. I am saying that in a minute, with no warning, suddenly everyone was trying to deal with a cult group and the revelations of allegations of sexual manipulation and abuse, confessions of things unimaginable, all of it. It happened so fast that no one could prepare for it. One minute it wasn’t there and the next it was.
Stop and picture your church: What if you went in Sunday morning and you found out a group in your church was allegedly living in some creepy ways and one leader in your church was sexually involved with them, and they were traumatized and now someone was dead. What if? Would your pastor know how to handle that perfectly on the spot? Would your deacons and elders know just what to do to protect the abused, help with healing, call in the perfect ministers? You see, it’s easy for us to wildly accuse when we don’t know these people, but I do know them. Perfect? No. Pure-hearted? Yes.
The general deliverance ministry at IHOPKC is not loud, not screaming in tongues, not wildly placing hands on people. But there is (or was?) that part when I was there, usually reserved for serious situations in which it was actually reasonable to expect serious spiritual oppression. You do not live a life as a trafficking victim, prostitute, or cult member, without engaging a dark spiritual side. So I get that motivation too. Nevertheless, if someone does not have a wild and dramatic personality, but has been a victim of such things and is fragile, yelling—even at demons and not the person—is counterproductive and destructive. It has no place in ministering to a person.
No one ever forces anyone to do anything. There were things I did not take part in because after a couple of years of experiencing some truly nutso deliverance people (not from IHOPKC ; if you want a real deliverance cult, I can give you an address, and it’s not in Kansas City), I was just scared by the whole idea of deliverance, but that was from my own past experiences.
That said, here are some other things I know that must be considered when wildly accusing all of IHOPKC as being bad. First, I have been in many teaching sessions at IHOPKC, including one from the head (at least when I was there) of the deliverance ministry. I have been in classes not open to the public, as well as all the public sessions, in which deliverance was addressed. Not one time was anything like this encouraged. In fact, every single time, and I do mean every time without fail, we were encouraged to pray without those demonstrations. Bickle is fond of saying how he has a big personality so when he says “pass the salt” at dinner, he sort of booms across the table, but his point was that his personality is just loud (and by the way, he has never, in all the years I spent in proximity with him, yelled at demons when praying for someone. That time he prayed for me when the Holy Spirit started moving and instead of just praying and moving on, he lingered, it was obvious the Lord was moving. This prayer went on for quite some time, and the room was loud with activity and music. And that man did not ever raise his voice or speak with the slightest hint of drama). In training to pray for people or prophesy to people at IHOPKC, gentleness and respect is always encouraged. They tell you to stand in front of people when praying for them, not behind them, so you can see them and they see you. And time and again, we were told not to shout at demons.
I’m not a fan of deliverance ministry, period. I am a fan of teaching people how to encounter Jesus who is the Deliverer. I have experienced deliverance, a few times, actually, as recently as three weeks ago (!), and every single time it came when I encountered Jesus. Not once did it come when I recited a script. But even with my bias against this, I can tell you that what IHOPKC does with deliverance ministry is the tamest I have ever seen.
On Discouraging Education:
I’m a highly educated person by the standards of the world, and my education was honored at IHOPKC—and actually was the reason I worked both with the leader writing, and with the Justice Leadership Team. I have an earned PhD from a well-ranked public university, and I educate others. I have never been discouraged to pursue education or to compromise it. Why is it that when a young person goes to YWAM for a DTS, people don’t condemn that? Many young people go to one DTS, then another, then another. They then join staff and never go to college, and that’s okay. I am pro-education, but I don’t think that a young person giving his or her life to service for the Lord is bad; however, I think that doing that from some sort of peer pressure because it’s cool and all the people around are doing it is a sign of needing to grow. A place like IHOPKC is a specific place for specific types of people. Few people are called to live all of their lives and vocations in life of prayer and worship and service to the base and community. But some are. Bickle has said repeatedly in public and smaller group meetings that if someone is not called to this, that person should leave and go to school, get a job, or whatever, and simply continue praying and pursuing Jesus as that person is called. It’s true that I do not like the word “university” when dealing with non-accredited school. And this was addressed in the Midwest Ministers Fellowship report in Bickle’s response to his accusers. But to mass label any of these as discouraging education is untrue. In my time at IHOPKC, I saw many young people leave staff to go back to college, and some stayed part-time and did that, or went to school full-time and did the prayer room sometimes. Each was welcomed. Did someone discourage education for someone who wanted it? Did someone shun one who went back to school? Probably here and there. Is that the attitude of IHOPKC? Absolutely not.
As I conclude this really long piece, I want to tell you what is most important: The fruit. In the middle of my plans to write this, something profound happened to me spiritually. That’s not for this particular piece, but what happened to me as a result is. I was away on a trip when I had a powerful encounter with the Lord. When I came home, suddenly, my life was different. For the first time a couple years—maybe more, to be honest—I was passionate to pursue Jesus. I went to my room to pray, not sure exactly where to begin and what I was doing. I had been away from such things for so long, which is sad, but was my own work as I began a slow descent by giving into little compromises until I didn’t recognize myself. And what happened was amazing to me. I knew what to do, and most of what I knew came from all my years at IHOPKC. You want to know what I learned there? I learned to pray the Bible. When I was sitting there wordless and unsure how or what to pray, all that teaching came back to me, and I opened my Bible and read it aloud, and I prayed it aloud. And it had life because the Word of God is alive. I talked to the Holy Spirit, remembering all the teaching I had on how to just sit in His presence and be with Him and talk to the Lord not out of petition, but out of abiding. I remembered the admonishment to go find what the Bible says about everything. I was hungry, so hungry I felt I was a starving spiritual waif. I pulled out every book I could find on what was happening in me. But the foundation in me that came alive was from the many years of sermons and prayer meetings at the place so many have now declared bad. The fruit in my life is good. It is godly, biblical, Jesus. I had never been so thankful for IHOPKC as I was a few weeks ago when I had that education in the Spirit to fall back on when God restored my soul.
No place is without fault. In my talks with IHOPKC leaders, as well as the documents I have read from them, the leaders, led by Bickle, have thanked the naysayers for pointing out areas of weakness so they can be addressed. Yes, there should be greater personal accountability or connection. But even since I was there, that’s been building. They have sought advice from people outside the organization. I know this for a fact. They have brought new people in to help.
See, people mess up, but the ones who are godly seek to repent and change. This is what I have seen. Many are criticizing IHOPKC for not responding in some specific ways, and all I have to say to that is what one of my friends noted from Proverbs 18: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” There are two sides to everything, and simply waiting for some more information before presenting a response is not an indication of guilt.
I ask you to hold your blanket judgments. I ask you to pray most especially for the victims of the original cult group and their physical, emotional, and sexual abuse they have detailed. I cannot begin to fathom that pain and what it must take to work through it. I ask you to pray for those who were part of IHOPKC and in that time experienced some form of relational damage, or even controlling behavior at the hands of some leader acting on his or her own, and to remember that in a ministry of thousands, it would be impossible to find each error—especially when it’s not pointed out at the time. I ask you to also pray—no matter where you stand—for the leaders. From the top leaders, down to the random person who sits there anonymously and maybe prays a rapid-fire prayer on the mic once in a while, these mass accusations and awful comments are hurtful. Please do not target the whole place for a few grievances.
I have had both good (very good) and bad (very bad) experiences in my connections in Kansas City. I met people at IHOPKC who broke my heart, and I met people at IHOPKC who became some of the closest friends in my life. But if I had to generalize every one of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people I know and knew in that ministry, I could say, in all sincerity, that as a group of people, from senior leaders to people you would never know, I have never encountered a group of more humble, kind, encouraging, loving people in my life. They truly love Jesus, and they preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Whatever faults they have, you won’t find much difference at your local church, workplace or anywhere else.
May God continue to work on the weaknesses that the team there is addressing, and may God show mercy to us all in this time of conflict. The saddest part of all of this for me is that Jesus isn’t glorified one bit by these negative comments, even the ones that may have elements of truth. In the end, if it’s not to the glory of God, it will burn anyway.
As I actually close this, I need to say again, absolutely no one has approved or edited any content in here. The majority of my friends at IHOPKC have no idea I’m writing this and don’t even know where I stand on the controversies. I have no horse in this race—well, except the white horse that Jesus will ride in on one day. That should be the only winner that drives our motivations.